Four new Indigenous films by and about Native women

Vincent Schilling

Nonprofit group unveils four new movies highlighting Indigenous themes

Update: You can now watch the short film "Paulette," directed by Heather Rae below:

For the past 45 years, the nonprofit Women Make Movies has been one of the leading industry organizations working to help female filmmakers, directors and producers create films with a message of female empowerment and resilience.

Among its latest efforts are four Indigenous-themed films, each employing a female Native producer and/or director.

“We support women producers and directors from the beginning, planting the seeds for a diverse and inclusive filmmaking landscape,” the group’s website states. “As the world’s leading distributor of independent films by and about women, we amplify historically ignored voices and challenge the mainstream media.”

Kendra Hodgson, director of strategy and innovation at Women Make Movies, says she is excited about the release of the four films, which will be available to interested viewers via a virtual film festival WMM is hosting in celebration of Native American Heritage Month November 1-8 as well as to educators and institutions of learning on a case-by-case basis.

The films and associated Native directors and producers are as follows:

“Without a Whisper: Konnon:kwe”

Filmmaker: Katsitsionni Fox, Mohawk

Without a Whisper

Quote from Katsitsionni Fox: “It was important for me to make this film to honor my grandmothers that inspired a movement and were never acknowledged. It is time for Indigenous filmmakers to share our stories and break through the silence and the stereotypes. In my films, I focus on the resilience and the wisdom of our women.”

Synopsis: “Without a Whisper: Konnon:kwe” uncovers the hidden history of the profound influence Indigenous women had on the beginnings of the women’s rights movement in the United States. Before the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, European colonial women lacked even the most basic rights, while Haudenosaunee women had a potent political and spiritual voice and authority in all aspects of their lives. The contact that the early suffragists had with Haudenosaunee women in New York state shaped their thinking and had a vital impact on their struggle for equality that is taken for granted today. The film follows Mohawk Bear Clan Mother Louise Herne and Professor Sally Roesch Wagner as they seek to correct the historical narrative about the origins of women’s rights in the United States.

“Paulette”

Director/Producer: Heather Rae

Paulette

Synopsis: “Paulette” is an inspiring short film that follows the historic campaign of the first Native American candidate — as well as the first woman — to win the Idaho primary for governor. Coeur d’Alene tribal member Paulette Jordan comes from a long line of ancestral leadership, deeply connected to the land of Idaho. The single mother of two ran for governor in 2018, winning the Democratic Primary by a landslide. A victory in November would have made her the first woman to serve as governor in the state — and would have marked the first time in U.S. history that a Native American has held the governorship of any state.

Despite a hard-hitting loss in the general election to a conservative Republican male opponent, Jordan’s groundbreaking bid for governor represented a growing movement for Native people, people of color, and women fighting to have a voice and visibility in American politics. Forging ahead and staying true to her path as an Indigenous leader, Jordan is currently campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate and won Idaho’s Democratic primary in June.

Comments from Paulette Jordan, Producer Alex Dupris and Director Heather Rae

Paulette Jordan

“I couldn't think of anyone better than Heather Rae to have created this film, along with my cousin Ben-Alex Dupris and their entire crew. Heather has a good heart and an incredible vision for the elevation of Native voices.

When you’re running a campaign there are a lot of raw moments from the emotional wear and tear of the campaign trial. The film crew came into very personal parts of my life, like my family life and spiritual life. I trust my sister Heather Rae and her ability to move people into action with her storytelling. With our movement, Idaho’s political landscape is changing. I want to be a part of making sure we grow in the right direction.

The Paulette film is a testament to the strength of Native women. Our resilience, our love for our people, our willingness to stand up and do what is right at any given moment, especially when times get tough and challenges seem insurmountable. We keep going because our Ancestors, they brought us this far, and it is our natural agreement to take care of one another and take care of the earth for the many generations to follow. We must protect what we hold sacred, we can’t leave it up to others to speak for us. We have to continue fighting to be heard, to be seen and to lead. We have much to offer.”

Producer Ben Alex Dupris

Paulette Jordan’s back to back runs for Governor and the Senate are more complex storylines than they appear on the surface. In a red state like Idaho, where Native American’s are often overlooked on any matter, Paulette has managed to shape a new narrative about the importance of balanced leadership for all Idahoans. Her tenacity and grounded sense of Indigeneity have pushed this historic run for Senate 2020 into an enchanting underdog story that is captured intimately by our Director, Heather Rae.

Heather Rae has built a film that frames the role of a modern-day warrior, where the public spotlight has previously been reserved for aging white men in leadership. Working with both Paulette and Heather Rae on the campaign trail was an incredible experience, with the two of them often discussing the intricate ups and downs that a modern Indigenous politician goes through on a daily basis. The film is a timestamp of our current political climate, with trap doors of racism and bias disguised as old fashioned constitutional hardball. The underlying message of the film “Paulette” is rooted in an indescribable spirit of resistance, where Native American women have rarely stood, in the modern political era. And behind all the lights, and colorful stages are Paulette’s sons who we can see experiencing this in real-time. They are learning first-hand, like the rest of us, what it takes to become a tribal leader in the 21st century. Paulette Jordan and Director Heather Rae have captured a slice of Indigenous history that serves as an inspiration to us all.

Director Heather Rae

I met Paulette when she was in high school, while I was working on her reservation in my home state of Idaho. Paulette is a formidable leader, and I mean that in the best way. She descends from some of the most powerful historic leaders of the Pacific Northwest — chiefs and heads women who led the people and stood up against the forces of colonialism and encroachment. So there is a natural logic to Paulette being in leadership, representing the people of the land she hails from for centuries. This was one of my greatest revelations while following her gubernatorial campaign two years ago — that there is something so powerful about re-presencing Native people in governance, it is an act of restoring integrity with this land. And now she is deep into her race for US senate which would be groundbreaking for the otherwise red state.

It was my dad who called me up and said, 'You gotta support Paulette! Do your filming or whatever you do and help!’ To which I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ And it was an honor and an education about American politics to join her on the journey of creating a groundswell movement in Idaho — amongst young people, people of color, and people from the margins of what you might perceive Idaho to be. Paulette inspires me, as a person and as an Idahoan. I hope she becomes President one day.

Watch "Paulette" here

“Sisters Rising”

Directors: Willow O’Feral & Brad Heck
Executive Producer: Tantoo Cardinal, Cree/Metis
Producer: Jaida Grey Eagle, Oglala Lakota

Sisters Rising

Quote from Producer Jaida Grey Eagle: “The abhorrent violence that is a constant in the lives of Indigenous peoples impacts Indigenous women first. We are on the frontlines of an ongoing legacy of violent colonization, and it is vitally important that the world see and hear us.”

Synopsis: “Sisters Rising” is the story of six Native American women fighting to restore personal and tribal sovereignty in the face of ongoing sexual violence against Indigenous women in the United States.

Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than all other American women, federal studies have shown. One in three Native women report having been raped during her lifetime, and 86 percent of the offenses are committed by non-Native men. These perpetrators exploit gaps in tribal jurisdictional authority and target Native women as ‘safe victims’.

The film follows six women who refuse to let this pattern of violence continue in the shadows: A tribal officer in the midst of the North Dakota oil boom, an attorney fighting to overturn restrictions on tribal sovereignty, a teacher of Indigenous women’s self-defense, grassroots advocates working to influence legislative change, and the author of the first anti-sex trafficking code to be introduced to a reservation’s tribal court. Their stories shine an unflinching light on righting injustice on both an individual and systemic level.

“Sisters Rising” is an urgent call to action, a gorgeous portrait of powerful women acting in solidarity, and a demand for tribal sovereignty and self-determination as the necessary step towards ending violence against Native women.

“Conscience Point”

Director: Treva Wurmfeld
Producer: Julianna Brannum, Comanche

Quote from producer Julianna Brannum, Comanche: “‘Conscience Point’ paints a very deep history that includes a very complex experience and all of our characters/storytellers/knowledge-keepers highlighted in this film make it all easier for the viewer to understand land rights issues, invisibility, and historical trauma. But there are nuances to those stories, background, and history that I think makes it important for Native producers and directors to collaborate actively with the non-Native storytellers that may be leading or developing a project. Treva was always highly receptive to my ideas and thoughts and her sensitivity to subjects was unmatched. I was honored to be a part of it and have great respect for her as a collaborator."

Synopsis: Beneath the mystique of the Hamptons, among one of the wealthiest zip codes in the U.S., lies the history of the area's original inhabitants. The Shinnecock Indian Nation were edged off their land over the course of hundreds of years, pushed onto an impoverished reservation, and condemned to watch their sacred burial grounds plowed to make way for mega-mansions and marquee attractions like the exclusive Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, a five-time host of the U.S. Open.

“Conscience Point” tracks this fractured history alongside the path of one woman determined to make a stand: Shinnecock activist Rebecca “Becky” Hill-Genia who, together with other tribal members and allies, has waged a relentless, years-long battle to protect the land and her tribe’s cultural heritage from the ravages of development and displacement. Now both the Shinnecock Nation and town residents face a new challenge; the onslaught of elite newcomers who threaten the very place they intend to cherish.

A live public viewing of the films

Hodgson shared with Indian Country Today that Women Make Movies generally offers films to education-based institutions, but that these specific films will also be available to the public.

For more information, see the Women Make Movies website for details.

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Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is associate editor of Indian Country Today who enjoys creating media, technology, computers, comics and movies. He is a film critic and writes the #NativeNerd column. Twitter @VinceSchilling vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com he is also the opinions’ editor, opinion@indincountrytoday.com.


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